Appeared in March 2006 LINKS
For years, Savannah’s River Street has been a magnet for locals and tourists alike. The cobblestone thoroughfare is home to more than 70 restaurants, shops, galleries and hotels—many located in converted cotton warehouses from days gone by—and most days it’s abuzz with pedestrians strolling along the Savannah River. The place is replete with the kind of romantic allure that seems to come with any city situated on a body of water—think Paris’ Left Bank with a drawl.
Far less romantic—downright disagreeable, in fact—was the desolate expanse across the river known as Hutchinson Island. Sections of the island’s waterfront once bustled with industry before port operations moved upriver, leaving behind a dreary landscape of scrub and dredge spoils. Railroad companies held much of that land; in the late 1990s one of them, CSX, finally decided to make something useful of its portion.
The result is the Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort and Spa, which brought an extreme makeover to Hutchinson Island. The partnership between CSX, Starwood Hotels & Resorts and Troon Golf includes a 16-story luxury hotel, a Robert Cupp/Sam Snead-designed golf course and a spa operating under the well-known Greenbrier brand.
In a unique concept for golf vacationers, this “urban resort” provides full-service operation with all amenities on site, yet lies within easy reach of a well-known downtown area. River Street is a seven-minute ride via water taxis that regularly depart the Westin’s floating dock, and both the golf course and the AAA Four Diamond-rated Westin hotel offer delightful views of Savannah’s spire-studded skyline, fostering a feeling of intimacy between resort and city.
The course, which has hosted the Champions Tour’s Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf since 2003, winds around an open, marshy tract sandwiched between the Savannah River and the Back River on the island’s northern side, just across the border from South Carolina. There’s ample room to spray drives, but the openness can be deceiving: Precise play to certain spots is rewarded with better angles and shorter approaches into greens. Most greens feature subtle (and some not-so-subtle) undulations and falloffs; a couple—like the 17,000-square-foot putting surface at the par-4, 468-yard 12th—add sheer girth to the challenge.Cupp and Snead, whose bust greets golfers at the first tee, offered variety in their design, from the driveable but narrow 324-yard 14th to the 660-yard boomerang-shaped seventh, nicknamed “Big Duke.” Despite its urban setting, the layout is imbued with a natural feel—it’s essentially a series of fairways and greens set amid a sea of marsh.
Measuring nearly 7,300 yards from the back tees and buffeted by winds off the adjacent rivers, Savannah Harbor can be physically and mentally demanding. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Greenbrier Spa, patterned after its West Virginia namesake, offers a full menu of treatments, including the “Signature Greenbrier,” which begins with a soak in sulphur crystals imported from White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.
Savannah Harbor is open to daily-fee play, but the best option is to spend a few days soaking up the resort’s comforts and exploring the rich historic district of Georgia’s first city, founded by James Edward Oglethorpe in 1733. (Bonus tip: Hotel guests have access to Haig Point Club, a private 29-hole facility on nearby Daufuskie Island, South Carolina.)
The Westin’s Aqua Star restaurant is a fine choice for dinner, especially if you’re looking for good seafood—try the creamy she crab soup. Also be sure to stop by the Midnight Sun lounge, named for the work of one of Savannah’s famous sons, songwriter Johnny Mercer.
Mercer was roused to write one of his biggest hits, “Moon River,” while gazing at the waterway that ran behind his Burnside Island home near Savannah. It seems all the rivers around here have a way of inspiring.